Now that the proverbial dust has settled, let’s get one thing out of the way first. A lot of talk around the iPhone 13 series — at least days after it was unveiled — was about it being ‘boring’. The talk — and not the iPhones — is actually very boring. People do seem to have these crazy expectations of Apple putting the moon in your palm but the truth is smartphones have reached a saturation level when it comes to innovation. All you are going to get — at least with traditional smartphones — are incremental upgrades depending on what your perspective is.

So what has Apple done with the iPhone 13 series? It has given users a new processor, made the camera setup really impressive, added more battery life, snazzed up the displays, and doubled the storage capacity. And above all, not increased the prices at a time when smartphones have been getting expensive because of a variety of reasons. Boring? Pfft. Try something else. Or better try the iPhone 13 Pro Max — the crown jewel of the new iPhone series. At the starting price of Rs 1,29,990, the iPhone 13 Pro Max is the most expensive iPhone — and one of the most expensive smartphones — you can buy. It’s only been a few days that we have been using the iPhone 13 Pro Max but it has really made a lasting impression. Read our review to find out more:

iPhone 13 Pro Max review: Design and display

Alright, so the ‘boring’ brigade is right about this part at least. Apple hasn’t made any major changes to the design of the iPhone 13 Pro Max. At first glance, it looks very much similar to the 12 Pro Max. The sides are flat and the rails on the edges remain glossy, which means they attract a lot of fingerprints. Apple has changed the size of the notch and made it smaller but it’s still very much there. The notch is smaller horizontally but that hasn’t changed the functioning of the iPhone in any way.

The iPhone 13 Pro Max is heavier and slightly thicker also compared to the iPhone 12 Pro Max. The camera bump on the back of the phone is much bigger and looks daunting enough. The lenses are bigger and you can understand why Apple made them this way as evident in the camera performance but more on that later.

The front of the iPhone still gets Ceramic Shield, which is quite sturdy and durable but won’t really save the phone from a heavy-duty fall. It’s also not scratch proof, so beware of the keys brushing off against the phone in your pocket.

We had the new Sierra Blue colour and from all angles, this is quite a beautiful looking iPhone. Last year’s Pacific Blue looked great but this blue is an absolute attention grabber in the subtlest of ways. Yes, it’s a bit bulky (about 240 grams) but for a bigger display, you will have to get used to the size.

Speaking of the display, Apple has finally got a display with a refresh rate of 120Hz. Apple is late to this party as Android phones — even mid-range ones — have had this for a while now. Apple, of course, has given it a ‘twist’ and calls it ProMotion display. What it does is that it makes scrolling really smooth and as soon as the phone is set up and you swipe it the first time, you can notice the difference. Of course, you don’t realise that you need this feature till you actually start using it. The iPhone 13 Pro max adjusts the refresh rate depending on what you are doing on the phone. It can go to 10Hz — if you are viewing an image — and also to 120Hz if you are scrolling on playing games that support 120Hz. It’s a feature that was much-needed on the iPhones and till a few weeks back the iPhone 12 Pro Max was “the ultimate” but having used the iPhone 13 Pro Max, it will feel a bit strange to go back to it.

The rest of the display features haven’t changed, except it is 25% brighter. Is the difference obvious? Not really but that’s because the iPhone 12 Pro Max already had a display that was suitable for everything. You can watch content, play games, or look at images and everything looks great on the iPhone 13 Pro Max display.

While Android phones — at least premium ones — are almost all-screen with curving displays, the notch and a really small bezel on the iPhone 13 Pro Max looks a bit ‘dated’.

iPhone 13 Pro Max review: Performance, battery life

It’s an annual ritual to say this: the iPhones have the best processor you will find on any phone. The same goes for iPhone 13 Pro Max that comes with the all-new A15 Bionic processor. It’s really fast and for day-to-day activities, it hardly breaks a sweat. What it also ensures is that your iPhone won’t become ‘slow’ or lag even after a few years. Someone who’s upgrading from the iPhone XS or iPhone XR will really see a huge bump in performance — and those phones run on a processor that is still really impressive. Apple has introduced an all-new 5-core GPU that delivers excellent graphic performance. There is a 6-core CPU — two performance and four efficiency cores — that ensures really impressive performance. Apple claims that the current CPU is 50% faster than the competition and it shows when you put the iPhone 13 Pro Max at rigorous tasks.

One of the big reasons why iPhone cameras have become better over the years is down to how well Apple does computational photography. The A15 carries forward that legacy in some style. Machine learning is one of the big reasons for that and A15 has a new 16-core Neural Engine. Apple says that the engine is designed with camera hardware and software teams together, which ensures smooth integration between the two. The new Cinematic mode works flawlessly because the A15 processor is so good. What the A15 also does is that it ensures excellent battery life in this iPhone. We thought that the iPhone 12 Pro Max had great battery life but the iPhone 13 Pro Max lasts almost 2.5 hours longer than that. Apple has really improved the battery on this mammoth phone

When it comes to gaming, the display and processor combine to give a memorable experience. This is also where the big iPhone 13 Pro Max comes in really handy (pun unintended) as the colours look sharp and the 5-core GPU shines in games. Apple has been setting the benchmark with iPhones when it comes to smartphone performance and the iPhone 13 Pro Max is no different.

iPhone 13 Pro Max review: Camera

Before we delve into the camera, let’s talk about a new Apple feature called Picture Profiles. As soon as you setup the iPhone 13 Pro Max and head to the Camera app — something most people will do — you will be greeted by something called Picture Profiles. Simply put, it’s a new setting that gives users more options on how their photos will actually look. You will find Standard, Rich Contrast, Warm, Cool and Vibrant modes. All these modes can be customised and once you choose a profile that becomes the default mode for your photos. There’s an option to change the mode as well and it’s totally up to you to figure out which mode looks the best. Apple has perhaps chosen to do this to give users a ‘different’ look. For years, we have been now saying that the images clicked from iPhones are the most natural-looking compared to the competition. For instance, you click a picture of the New Delhi sky with a premium Samsung phone and it looks like the Californian sky. Apple never did that and still doesn’t but with Picture Profiles, it’s giving you that option. There are shades of Samsung in the Vibrant mode with colours looking brighter than they actually are.
Moving on to the camera set up. The ultra-wide-angle lens now has a larger f/1.8 aperture and a new sensor with autofocus. Apple claims that with the new sensor there is a 92% increase in light gathering. The ultra-wide offers 120-degree field of view and captures four times the scene. The images with the ultra-wide-angle lens are simply gorgeous — the details, the field of view, the colours everything is spot on.

Apple has also got macro mode with the ultra-wide lens and it’s the most fun you can have with this camera. Bring the lens closer to a subject and it can capture as close as 2 cm. Some of the details that emerge in macro will leave you shaking your head as they are really that good.

The telephoto lens has gotten better with Apple giving 3X zoom which is about 77mm focal length. The aperture has been reduced from f/2.2 to f/2.8 but the night mode more than makes up for it in low light. Apple has never been in the specs game and that’s why it still offers ‘basic’ 12MP cameras. There’s no 50X or 100X Zoom either but just 3X optical zoom. No pixel binning or 108MP cameras — but extreme reliance on the A15 Bionic processor and computational photography.

Apple has added a new Cinematic mode — the headline act — on the iPhone 13 cameras. #Hollywoodinyourpocket is how Apple has been promoting this mode and made it clear that this is meant for ‘pros’ who want to shoot more than day to day stuff on the iPhone 13 Pro Max. The Cinematic mode is like a Portrait mode for videos where the background of a video can be blurred. It looked great when Apple unveiled and is actually quite a fun feature but frankly not many ‘regular’ users will be use it on a daily basis. It’s a lot of fun to watch the iPhone automatically shift focus to people in the frame. The focus point can be changed while tapping on the screen wherever you want to. Apple gives the option to change the focus while editing also. As I said, it’s a lot of fun and something not found in other phones.

The other highlight feature — though not yet available — is the ProRes video. The ProRes mode is capable to record in 4K resolution at 30fps and also offers the chance to edit. Apple says that the iPhone 13 Pro is the only smartphone to offer an end-to-end pro workflow that allows you to record and edit in ProRes. Then you have last year’s Dolby Vision which was fantastic use and is still available. There was a time when Samsung’s premium phones were quite ahead of Apple in terms of video recording but Apple has stepped up and how. The video capabilities on the iPhone 13 Pro Max are second to none and genuinely make a strong case for splashing out a lot of cash on it.

The cameras on iPhone 13 Pro Max really seem to challenge you. The more complicated an image subject and the better it delivers. It’s something that is so much evident in the night shots. Apple has really stepped up the game with low-light photography and it’s all thanks to the new sensors. If you thought that the sensors look big and a bit ‘odd’ then all the images that you click which will get others swoon over them are worth it. And swoon they do. Rarely you find a camera that clicks images that manage to impress one and all. Apple’s computational photography game was always spot on but the iPhone 13 Pro Max adds a genuine wow factor to it. There’s not a smartphone in the market that will deliver such impressive results and that too with this incredible consistency. Till the Pixel 6 comes — and it is unlikely to come to India — we can safely say that this is the best camera on a smartphone. And this we are saying before getting into the video camera performance.

iPhone 13 Pro Max review: Verdict
Look at it from any perspective and this is a seriously impressive iPhone. It better be as it comes at a starting price of Rs 1,29,990. What Apple has done with the cameras is something to marvel at. We all know that the iPhone is perhaps the easiest phone to recommend, you can never go wrong with it.

Despite its high cost, the iPhone 13 Pro Max is a compelling buy for what Apple has done with the cameras and display. Perhaps someone upgrading from the iPhone 12 Pro series might not see enough ‘value’ in it. But Apple has made some incremental and incredible changes to the iPhone 13 Pro Max, which makes it the best smartphone money can buy right now.

The iPhone 13 Pro Max has the best camera you can find, a processor that remains unmatched, a battery life that will not give even the hardcore users a reason to complain and looks that will attract all the attention. We never ever give a smartphone a 5/5 rating but the iPhone 13 Pro Max is that rare phone that came very close and deserves all the exceptions — even from those who feel that a phone should never be this expensive.